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Parliamentary staffer tests positive

Employee came into contact with MPs and staff when House met on Sept. 9

Although an employee of Parliament tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the House of Assembly will meet briefly today and MPs will not be required to go into quarantine, Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday.

The employee came into contact with all MPs and staff who were present when the House met last Wednesday, September 9, according to House Speaker Halson Moultrie.

Moultrie, who at times was seen not wearing a mask during that sitting, said yesterday that he intends to get tested and believes all MPs and staff members who were present last week should too.

“…I believe we are the leaders and we should set the example and lead by example,” Moultrie said.

“The health protocols call for self-quarantine if you haven’t tested positive but you’ve been exposed. And so that would be my recommendation as the Speaker.”

Moultrie said a doctor confirmed the situation to him yesterday morning.

“At about 7:30 this morning, I received confirmation from one of the doctors that indeed that member of staff had tested positive for the coronavirus,” he said.

“Now that puts us in a position where, having been exposed to that individual on September 9, all parliamentarians or all members of the House of Assembly who attended the September 9 session would have been exposed, as well as all staff members who worked with that particular staff member up to this revelation.

“…So, that would necessarily require us to quarantine for a minimum of 14 days.”

But when The Nassau Guardian later spoke with Bethel, he said quarantine is not necessary.

“To the best of my understanding, in terms of brief discussions this morning in Cabinet, Parliament will meet briefly tomorrow,” he said.

“According to the medical advice, the clerks would have worn masks all the time – all of the clerks would have. Members of Parliament basically wore them most of the time and so, there’s no requirement, we’re advised, for members of Parliament to go into quarantine.”

Some of those members who were seen not wearing masks on September 9 include Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest and Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Lanisha Rolle, among others.

The Senate, which was scheduled to meet on Monday, was canceled. Bethel said Senators were therefore not exposed to the staffer.

In a statement yesterday, the Cabinet Office said the Senate and the House of Assembly were deep cleaned and sanitized following the revelation. 

“The Ministry of Health has initiated contact tracing to determine the level of exposure to employees, and all other protocols are being followed,” it read.

“Persons who interacted with the employee, without following the preventative measures of wearing a mask, maintaining physical distance and limiting the time spent with the employee to less than 15 minutes will be required to quarantine.”

The Cabinet Office noted that the House will meet for a “short session with a reduced number of members physically in attendance”.

Extraordinary meeting

While the House is set to meet today, Moultrie said he wants an “extraordinary meeting” of the House with a minimum number of members to form a quorum.

A quorum in the House consists of 10 members, including the person presiding.

“It is very likely that we will not proceed with the full-fledged debate on the bills that was scheduled to be debated tomorrow,” he said.

“But I cannot say that for sure. It is more likely that the focus will be on a resolution to address this circumstance that we find ourselves in and perhaps the resolution with respect to the COVID-19 orders. Those are the likely resolutions that would be dealt with tomorrow.”

The state of emergency and Emergency Powers (COVID 19 Pandemic) Order, 2020 expire on September 30.

Moultrie said a resolution to allow Parliament to meet virtually or through a hybrid format during the crisis was already drafted after three parliamentarians tested positive for COVID-19. The speaker said he wants to ensure that any virtual meeting happens legally.

“Now, we had anticipated this likelihood as a consequence of three members of Parliament having already tested positive for the coronavirus,” he said.

“You know we had a senator who tested positive and two members of the House of Assembly. And so last Wednesday, on the 9th, I had drafted a resolution that was passed on to the leader of government business for the government to review and for the Cabinet to review.”

He added, “If we are able to pass that resolution, we can meet virtually or in combination.”

Bethel also noted that there should be a reconsideration of how Parliament meets.

“We should have a reconsideration perhaps of some of the things that we’re doing,” he said.

“So, the government is looking very closely at that, how we have house meetings, how the business of the country is conducted in a way to be as safe as possible.”

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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